C-47 sunset
3 min read
C-47 sunset

The stage is set…

Thinking about the position I’m in strikes me a little funny, and I imagine anybody who might see me would think it’s funny too: stretched out on the ramp with my head propped up on a tire of a C-47 reading a magazine. I must look like I just laid down and sprawled myself out! But actually, I planned it very carefully. I’m clear of the occasional drop of oil from the left engine but still in the shade.

I wonder about this stage I’ve set, but only for a moment because I’m not only keeping my flight suit spot free, but I can see a spectacular sunset about to unfold. It’s going to be just off to one side of my magazine and right under the wingtip. This spot will be perfect! All I have to do is wait and enjoy.

A quick glance at my watch tells me I have time for this theatre before we take off. Plenty of time to watch the puffy white clouds that drift slowly by, first turn yellow, then orange, and finally into black shadows as night sets in. It begins at the edges and slowly takes over the centers. First, it’s white on white, then orange on white, and finally gray on orange. I like to try and catch this change as it happens, but it’s always too gradual.

The house lights are slowly dimming as the show begins, the sun is setting and night awaits just off stage. I watch the curtain inch back to reveal the beauty of the twilight sky as day surrenders to night. It’s this last look that holds me so!

Night sky

To fly in such a sky is to be at peace.

To fly in such a sky is to be at peace. And I will be at peace tonight as I guide my C-47 westward, home. I’ve already taken my turn on the jets. I’ve left my contrails way up high. For most of my life I had been up there because that was where I was supposed to be, flying the jets. All my boyhood hopes and dreams fulfilled. But I’m lucky now; that time has come and gone. Even after a lifetime of wishing and working for it, I’ve come to calmly let it pass. I’ve chosen to come home, back to the C-47. Back where I had only been briefly as a young man so many years ago with the call of the jets burning in my heart. Back while I still could. I didn’t know peace back then. I do now.

My copilot doesn’t know peace yet but maybe someday he will. For now, he listens to the call of the jets and waits impatiently for his turn. As I wait for sundown, he sits by the tail of the airplane throwing small rocks at an ant hill. When he hears the distant sound of the jets high overhead, he looks up and he wishes. I know he does – even an old man like me can still feel that pull. I watch him as he watches them. He eyes them until they are out of sight and I remember it was once me, wishing and wanting.

But I don’t envy him now, nor will I tomorrow.

Lately he’s been ribbing me about the way I feel. He accuses me of “has-been” thinking… I think I like that idea. I brandished youthful drive and ambition once, just as he does now. But like the jets passing high above us, that too has passed. No more struggle, no more striving… just me and the “Grand Ol’ Lady.”

From over my ears comes the crackling sound of cooling metal as my engine gives up its heat to the cool breeze of evening. The drops of oil are few, and they’re missing me. I have chosen my spot well. I have chosen my place well.

Mark Martin
Latest posts by Mark Martin (see all)
23 replies
    • Doug
      Doug says:

      Poetry! I didn’t fly jets, but for thirty years I battered the skies with helicopters. First in combat, then medievac, and finally firefighting. Now I sit by my trusty Cessna 150 and watch the contrails. Then, after a flight, usually slower than the trucks on the highway, clean the bugs off the rear window and enjoy my “has-been” status.

  1. Marsha Martin Goetz
    Marsha Martin Goetz says:

    I knew this little boy. I remember his total dedication to his dream of flying the big jets. He went quietly about his tasks, determined to achieve his goal and take his place in the air. I now know his sense of peace, his total enjoyment from his past and total appreciation of the present. Well done……little bro.

  2. Fred Watts
    Fred Watts says:

    Great article, Mark. I will never be as high (106K) or as fast (Mach 2+), but all I want now is to fly a J-3 Cub or maybe a Super Cub.

  3. Craig O'Mara
    Craig O'Mara says:

    Wonderful sentiment! And just give your copilot time, he’ll understand – someday, not too far away!

  4. James Wehler
    James Wehler says:

    You ain’t lived with a “Gooney Bird” until you have polished and waxed one on skis in Air-Sea Rescue in Alaska!

  5. Ron Kunse
    Ron Kunse says:

    My best 3 time seemed to be on the west bound leg at oh dark thirty after unloading the freight “out east”. There I sat, tired and satisfied, we had delivered the boxes and it was the three hour flight back to Michigan with nothing to do but grind miles. But there always was more, the night sky ablaze with familiar stars, a couple of 1830s pouring out sweet bass notes, the thoughts of returning home to a warm bed and a family that missed me as I chased my dreams.

    Life is good and the 3 was slow enough to allow time to savor how fortunate aviators really are.
    Ron K, old freight dog.

    • Greg Wilson
      Greg Wilson says:

      Ron, where were you going back to in MI? I was with Royal Air at PTK, Twin Beeches at that time. Across the field was Criderman/Century flying 3s’ and Convairs. Over at Wilow Run, Zantop and Trans Con. were still running the DC-6.
      Good times, they all burn kerosene now…

      • Ron Kunse
        Ron Kunse says:

        Greg, I flew with Cryderman from 1963 to 1967 part time, then full time to 1972. Started as copilot on BE 18 with a grand total of 30 hours in a Luscombe and student permit, 3 cents per mile. I knew Bill Kostic (sp?) as he and Clark Cryderman would famously feud. Life is good and we are so fortunate to be American aviators.

        • Greg Wilson
          Greg Wilson says:

          Thanks for the reply! I’m a pvt pilot and worked as an A&P at Royal through the 80s. The turbines were starting to take over. No one wanted to work on the twin beeches so they were left mainly to me, which was great. I just do a little freelance work now, mainly champs and cubs. I do miss those round engines, but at least the third wheel is still in back.

  6. Jon Jefferies
    Jon Jefferies says:

    That’s good work, Friend! You need to keep that up and do it often. We all have stories that should be told and when you can do it that well, it seems more like an obligation!

  7. Fred Wackym
    Fred Wackym says:

    Beautiful capture of real thoughts that only “pilots ” can understand!!! Thanks for activating my past memories watching the Northern Lights from the cockpit at 35 thousand feet!!!Well Done Bravo!! Thanks

  8. David Cencula
    David Cencula says:

    Nice article.I often think that flying night mail was one of the most enjoyable flying jobs I ever had.

  9. John Stone
    John Stone says:

    Takes my mind back into the book, “Fate is the Hunter” and the peace of “that place” that veteran pilots find…if they are lucky.

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